Southern cooking is home cooking.” Those words are being spoken not by someone with a Carolina drawl, but by Mike DeMartino, who has a distinctly Brooklyn accent. He’s executive chef for Columbia University Dining, located in the heart of upper Manhattan.
Many chefs far north of the Mason-Dixon Line have been trying on a Southern accent for some time now, with their own takes on iconic Southern dishes from shrimp and grits to chicken and biscuits and cornbread. Cast-iron skillets and mason jars are everywhere, and customers have Georgia (and North Carolina and New Orleans) on their minds.
“We do a little bit of Southern food every day,” DeMartino says. At JJ’s Place, a casual on-campus eatery on the Columbia campus, shrimp and grits make an appearance once a week, and the students really like them, DeMartino says. And in a mash-up of the American South and the Caribbean, sautéed catfish with plantains has also been a hit.
Recently, celebrity chef Robert Irvine visited campus and prepared lobster po’boys for 2,200 students. The po’boys were topped with a zesty coleslaw and served on a potato bun, making for “just a great, rich, flavorful dish,” DeMartino says. While the lobster version doesn’t make the rotation regularly, a shrimp variation provides a fun, Bourbon Street vibe on the regular menu.